Johnson revels in victory
The celebration over Jimmie Johnson’s series-best seventh victory of the season was short. The defending Nextel Cup champion quickly turned his focus toward charity work following his win at Martinsville Speedway.
Johnson and his wife, Chandra, spent Tuesday making wishes come true with a luncheon at Hendrick Motorsports. The Johnsons hosted four people who didn’t qualify for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which traditionally brings children to NASCAR tracks to meet their heroes.
“We do so much with Make-A-Wish at the tracks, but not everyone is part of that program so we decided to work with some of the other wish networks,” Johnson said. “It’s very humbling to be around people who are battling different ailments and their wish is to meet me.”
Johnson said the day is difficult for him because as the participants are enjoying themselves, it’s bittersweet for the families.
“It’s tough on me because the kids are having such a great experience, just the time of their lives,” he said. “But you see how tough it is on the parents. Sometimes they are more upset because the kids are enjoying it so much.
“I’m proud to do my part to help a kid forget about their ailment or condition, and I leave inspired because of them.”
After the lunch and a personal tour of his race shop, Johnson headed for a board meeting with his foundation to decide on its 2008 projects. He raised money this year to build houses for Habitat for Humanity in his California hometown, and wants to focus on the Charlotte area and his wife’s Oklahoma hometown.
“We’re still hopeful to do something in Oklahoma where Channy grew up, and here in Charlotte,” he said. “Right now, we want to focus on where we grew up and where we live now.”
Johnson’s Q&A with AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer:
Q: Where is Channy from?
Q: Do you like it out there?
JJ: Oh yeah. And I better. My wife’s father once gave her a handgun for her birthday when she was younger.
Q: So, are you a Sooners fan?
JJ: Of course. I actually had a chance to meet Bob Stoops when he came to Daytona one time and that was pretty cool. And I’m the type of fan who roots for the teams where I know guys on them. So, we try to make it to Norman for a game or two every year, and we have plans to go there again this season.
Q: Is it possible that Channy married you to use your connections to get her close to the Sooners?
JJ: I don’t think so. I am pretty sure she has better connections than me.
Q: Did you have a chance to see what happened with Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards after the race? When it looked like Carl was going to punch Matt?
JJ: I saw it on television, just the end of it, and I don’t know what the heck was going on there. Carl and Matt—most guys—they like to talk about what went on after a race and I think they just got caught in a very uncomfortable situation. It looked like Carl didn’t realize there was a camera there, and maybe once he saw it, he tried to play it off. I can truthfully not imagine him pulling his arm back or ever punching anyone in the face. I know it looks bad, but maybe he was just trying to ham it up.
Q: Have you ever had any problems with Carl?
JJ: We’ve been clean through everything. I felt real bad at Charlotte in the Busch race when I spun out and collected him, but there’s never been anything that I can recall being angry about. And Matt’s one of the best about working with me on the race track. Matt and Tony (Stewart) are the two I race with the best out of anyone.
Q: So how do you race with teammate Jeff Gordon, then? Where does he rank?
JJ: He makes me earn the spot. With Matt and Tony, I will close in on them and sometimes almost crash into the back of them because they bail out and go ‘All right go ahead, pass me.’ I’ve been caught off guard by that a lot. But Jeff, he’s going to make you go up there and earn it. Jeff is not in that category.
Q: So, were you nervous at Martinsville, racing with him for the win—again?
JJ: I thought about it a few times, but on the restarts where Jeff was behind me, I was able to get away from him. In the spring, he was hunting me down. But this time I had a little better feeling in my stomach.
Q: The win moved you to 53 points behind him in the standings. How are you feeling about it?
JJ: “I feel good that we got another win and took advantage and got maximum points. I am still kind of bummed out about the Charlotte race, but we closed the gap some. I know the best I can do is get two or three spots on him from here on out. If that is the case, I do think I have a shot. But with four races to go, getting two or three spots on him is going to be tough. I still think I am on the offensive, though. I can still go out and earn it and I don’t need him to have engine failures or accidents to hand it to me.